Jewel of the Nile

Despite Egypt’s turbulent history, tourists are still flocking to the Nile and the Red Sea, and with several new resorts set to open, agents must do their homework to ensure they book products to suit customer requirements

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By  Joseph Mortimer Published  December 6, 2006

|~|Egypt-main-large.gif|~|Arrivals to Egypt from the Middle East increased 15.1% between January and June 2006 compared to the same period the previous year, hitting the 831,195 mark, according to the latest figures from the UNWTO.|~|Egypt doesn’t need much in the way of an introduction, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of a government bent on maximising the potential of the country’s tourism industry, customers are spoilt for choice, and travel agents are faced with a baffling number of options. From chilling out by the Red Sea, to cruising down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor; the five-star properties, meeting facilities and ancient wonders of Cairo; and the tranquil appeal of Alexandria, Egypt has year-round appeal for every sector of the tourism industry. The repeated efforts of terrorists to paralyse the Egyptian tourism industry have been unsuccessful, thanks to the appeal of the destination, the proactive nature of the tourism authority and the growing resilience of tourists to such attacks. A series of bombings in Sharm el Sheikh on July 23, 2005, which killed 88 people and wounded more than 150 others, dealt a heavy blow to Egyptian arrival figures for a time, but visitors numbers soon bounced back to pre-attack levels, according to Mahmoud Salem, secretary general of the Egyptian Hotel Association (EHA), which looks after the interests of around 1200 hotels Egypt-wide. “Nowadays we are becoming used to it and so are the tourists,” he explains. “It happens all over the world. For two or three days, arrivals and occupancies are affected, but then it comes back up again.” On the flip side, the war in Lebanon this summer meant that many tourists from the Arabian Peninsular decided to visit Egypt instead of Beirut, he adds. Terrorism attacks on Luxor in 1997, Taba in 2004, Cairo in April 2005, and the most recent incident in Dahab, earlier this year, had a similar short-term impact on arrivals to the Sharm bombings, but the long-term impact on Egypt’s visitor numbers has been negligible. Indeed, last year, Egypt saw more than 8.6 million tourists arrive at its airports, seaports and land borders. According to the UNWTO, the number of tourist arrivals in Egypt actually grew by 6% for the year, despite the Dahab attack in July, and in Sharm el Sheikh, the average annual room rate increased by 9%, despite the resort being a known terrorist target. Arrivals from the Middle East increased 15.1% between January and June 2006 compared to the same period the previous year, hitting the 831,195 mark. Saudi Arabia provided an enormous 139,917 visitors during the period, while countries with smaller populations such as the UAE and Qatar showed impressive growth. The ETA’s figures for January to July this year reveal an 18.3% increase in visitors from the UAE, compared to the same period in 2005, with more than 11,000 UAE nationals arriving in July alone. The number of Qatari nationals visiting improved a substantial 47.2% to 8922 visitors. Tourism in Egypt is focused on several distinct regions, but tourism development projects are constantly emerging and diversifying the holiday offering. While Sharm el Sheikh might have established itself as the new party town for young European and Arabian visitors alike, Cairo has long been the favourite Egyptian destination for Arab families. “It can be a little bit much for young children or families in Sharm el Sheikh,” explains Mahmoud M Kamel, Dubai sales manager, EgyptAir. “But Cairo and Alexandria are perfect. We used to have a distinct high and low season, but now it’s just one big high season all year round.” According to annual performance figures released by EgyptAir, the nation’s flag carrier flew 82,709 passengers from Dubai to Cairo from July 2005 to June 2006, accounting for 39.3% of the total passenger arrivals in Cairo from Dubai in that period. During the same period, EgyptAir’s market share for Cairo bound traffic from Dubai nudged up 1.6%, signalling minimal impact from the presence of other carriers such as new-kid-on-the-block, Air Arabia. “Competition has its benefits,” explains Kamel. “Passengers have the right to choose, and the variety gives people more travel options. Air Arabia is a low cost carrier, which is what a lot of people want, but we have been in the industry here for more than 30 years, so we don’t feel threatened.” In the UAE alone, EgyptAir has regular flights to Cairo from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and a seasonal service between June and August from Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. By next summer, the carrier hopes to introduce a once-a-week service between Sharjah and Assuit, following the success of Air Arabia’s twice-weekly service to the destination. The airline is also considering reinstating a twice-weekly service from Sharjah to Bombay, popular as an alternative means for VFR travel between the two destinations and as a passage for many pilgrims who travel from India to Egypt to visit religious sites. For its part, Air Arabia enjoyed a successful summer of flights to its Egyptian destinations – Asuit, Alexandria, Luxor and Sharm el Sheikh – but according to Shumaila Khan, the low-cost carrier’s direct marketing manager, the latter destination is subject to seasonal tourism that dies down in the winter months, so all services have currently been postponed. The holiday division of Air Arabia currently features Alexandria and Luxor in its brochure, both of which have proved popular, says Khan. Hilton International is currently pumping considerable time and investment into a complete restoration of the 18-year old Hilton Luxor. When it reopens in the fourth quarter of 2007, the Hilton Luxor Resort and Spa will flaunt new-look public areas and rooms to give it a trendier look, as well as the first spa facility in Luxor. The spa, which is totally detached from the hotel, will have its own guestrooms, treatment rooms, a lounge/sun deck relaxation space with recreational facilities and pool, plus a separate porte cocheres and a lobby entrance. Hilton Pyramids Golf Resort in Cairo has also recently opened its own Sothys Spa, which it claims is the first such facility in the Pyramids area of Cairo.||**||What the trade says|~|Sharm-El-Sheikh.gif|~|Sharm el Sheikh pioneered the all-in-one holiday destination concept and developments such as El Gouna and Marsa Alam are now following in its footsteps.|~|Dnata Holidays’ product development manager, Nathan Adams, agrees with Kamel that Cairo is still the most popular Egyptian destination, thanks to its iconic tourist attractions, its shopping and evening entertainment, but he points out that Sharm el Sheikh and other destinations outside of the capital are becoming increasingly popular with diverse groups, particularly families, couples and groups of youngsters. Many Middle Eastern travellers fly to Cairo for three or four days and then visit either a Red Sea resort like Sharm or Hurghada, Alexandria, or take a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan, he says. “For families, the number one destination is now Sharm el Sheikh, due to its beautiful beaches and hotels. The average stay for Sharm is between five and seven nights,” he adds. Adams expects resorts along the northern coast of Egypt and Alexandria to be popular with GCC holidaymakers next summer. He says the Four Seasons San Stefano in Alexandria and Gezirah Accor are two new hotels worth a visit. Dnata Holidays also recommends the deluxe Nile cruise program with Oberoi, and the Sahl Hashish area south of Hurghada, which also features the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh, the chain’s newest resort in Egypt, although this area is still under development. The company’s first property, the Mena House Oberoi in Cairo, has tough competition. Four Seasons has two properties in the capital; Four Seasons at Nile Plaza and Four Seasons at the First Residence. Other contenders include the Hilton Ramses, the Semiramis InterContinental and Intercontinental City Stars, Mövenpick Pyramids, Grand Hyatt Cairo, the Sheraton Cairo and the 1250-room Cairo Marriott Hotel, which has recently undergone a $40 million refurbishment. “For Arab visitors, Cairo’s night entertainment, theatre and cinema performances and special sports and artistic festivals are draw cards, while Nile cruises, international opera performances, and sight seeing tours are popular with Western expats,” says Atef Goubran, regional director sales and marketing for Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Egypt. Music festivals, horse racing and rally championships also draw regional visitors, he adds.||**||The Red Sea|~|Timmy-the-turtle.gif|~|There are dozens of dive centres in and around most of the Red Sea resorts; home to some of the best diving in the world.|~|In Sharm el Sheikh, honeymoon holidays are becoming a trendy option, especially with Saudi Arabian newlyweds, some of who go for a long weekend with their entire families and have a wedding service there, according EgyptAir’s sales promotion and reservation manager, Mohd S Matouk. He says Kuwaiti nationals have taken a shine to twin-stay holidays incorporating Sharm el Sheikh and Cairo, in a bid to mix a beach holiday with the shopping and sightseeing opportunities available in the capital. For customers who wish to avoid the crowds of Sharm, alternatives include Taba, Dabah or Hurghada, all of which boast a wide selection of resorts, hotels, beaches and dive schools. Hurghada and other Red Sea destinations are growing fat on the income generated by the flocks of tourists who come for the beaches and the diving, which are said to be some of the best in the world. Other recent additions to Egypt’s tourism offering include developments dotted along the shores of the Red Sea. The opening of Marsa Alam airport on the south Red Sea coast five years ago has led to a surge in visitors to the new resort destination. Since it opened, the airport has welcomed just more than one million visitors, and the area is fast becoming one of Egypt’s fastest growing tourism zones. The El Gouna resort village is another new development seeking to emulate Sharm el Sheikh. The tourist village features 14 individual hotels, some operated by major chains like Sheraton and Club Med, and some operated by smaller independent companies, each with their own entertainment and F&B facilities. Matouk says Port Sagafa, 60kms to the south of Hurghada, is becoming a popular option for tourists in pursuit of medical treatments, who come to relax in the therapeutic waters and unpolluted atmosphere.||**||FAMILIES HEAD TO Alexandria|~||~||~|A far cry from the beaches and nightclubs of Sharm, Alexandria is a cultural and historical destination suited more to families than single partygoers. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are expected to be a key source market for the new 118-room Four Seasons Alexandria, which is currently under construction in the Mediterranean resort of San Stefano and set to open in 2007. “The Middle East is a major feeder market [for Alexandria] especially in the summer months,” says Ashraf Elmanawaty, the property’s director of marketing. “Most families from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait like to spend some of their vacation time here.” As Alexandria tries to further expand its appeal to different sectors of the travel market, the hotel will incorporate a business centre featuring 1700m² of function space for business and MICE visitors. Oberoi’s Goubran points out that business travel to Egypt is more appealing now new self-contained developments have been built. “Egypt is getting more popular with business travellers as a result of remarkable progress in telecommunications, transportation, and infrastructure within the country,” he explains. “Also, the emergence of comprehensive hotel compounds provide an opportunity to tailor-make full conference packages combining corporate and recreational facilities.” Goubran refers to the continuing emergence of self-contained resorts; such as the up-and-coming mega tourism project, Almaza Bay Resort, in Marsa Matrouh. The latter is part of the government’s aim to develop more destinations along the north coast of the country. The bay will include five resort hotels and more than 1000 residential and tourist villas, as well as a tennis academy, shopping mall, golf course, spa, horseriding tracks and a cinema. ||**||THE SALES PITCH|~||~||~|GETTING THERE: Air Arabia: Sharjah-Alexandria, 10 weekly; to Assiut, two weekly; to Luxor, two weekly. Egypt Air: from Dubai: to Cairo, nine weekly; to Alexandria, twice weekly; to Sharm el Sheikh, once weekly (as of January 1); from Abu Dhabi: to Cairo daily; to Alexandria, one weekly; from Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah to Cairo, weekly (from June to August). Emirates: Dubai-Alexandria, daily; to Cairo, nine weekly. Etihad: Abu-Dhabi-Cairo, daily Gulf Air: to Cairo, three weekly from Bahrain and Muscat. Kuwait Airways: to Alexandria, three weekly; to Cairo, six weekly; to Luxor, three weekly; to Sharm el Sheikh, one weekly. Middle Eastern Airlines: Beirut-Cairo, daily. Qatar Airways: Doha-Alexandria, four weekly; to Cairo, daily; to Luxor, four weekly. Royal Jordanian: Amman-Alexandria, two weekly; to Cairo, five weekly; to Sharm el Sheikh, daily. Saudi Arabian Airlines: Jeddah-Alexandria, five weekly; Jeddah-Cairo, 27 weekly; Riyadh-Alexandria, two weekly, Riyadh-Cairo, daily. Singapore Airlines: from Dubai, three weekly. Turkish Airlines: Istanbul-Cairo, daily. VISAS: Visitors from all Middle East countries except for Palestine and Iraq are entitled to receive a tourist visa upon arrival. PACKAGES: EgyptAir Holidays: prices for a three-night trip to Cairo, including return economy airfares (Dubai-Cairo-Dubai), accommodation in a three-star hotel, airport transfers in coach, start from AED 1630 (US $444), based on two people sharing. Excludes AED 410 ($112) ticket tax. Prices for a six-night package to Cairo, including a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan, economy class air tickets (Dubai-Cairo-Luxor – Aswan-Cairo-Dubai), two nights’ accommodation in the Mövenpick Pyramids hotel in Cairo, one full-day tour of the Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Egyptian museum, three nights’ accommodation aboard the five-star floating Presidential Nile Cruise, and a further night in the Mövenpick Pyramids hotel, start at AED 3700 ($1007) per person. Excludes AED 520 ($142) ticket tax. For the same package with accommodation in the InterContinental City Stars hotel and a cruise aboard the Oberoi Shehrazade, prices start at AED 4750 ($1293) per person. Air Arabia Holidays: prices for a three-night stay in a three-star hotel in Alexandria, including return flights with Air Arabia, daily breakfast and airport transfers start at AED 1070 ($291) per person, excluding airport taxes and surcharges. Prices for the same package to Luxor start at AED 999 ($272). Air Arabia-appointed travel agents are entitled to earn 10% sales commission on packages. Dnata Holidays: prices for a three-night stay in a superior room at the five-star Rotana Grand Resort and Spa in Sharm el Sheikh start at AED 2840 ($773) per person, including return economy class airfares on EgyptAir via Cairo, private return airport transfers, all airport taxes and fuel surcharges, and based on twin share. Prices for a three-night stay in a standard room at the five-star Semiramis InterContinental Hotel in Cairo start at AED 3700 ($1007) per person, including return economy class airfare with Emirates Airline, private return airport transfers, all airport taxes and fuel surcharges, based on twin sharing. Both offers are valid until March 31, 2007. Gulf Air Holidays: prices start from BHD 197 ($522) for three nights in a four-star hotel in Sharm el Sheikh, including economy class airfare to Cairo. Excludes internal flight from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh. Extra nights cost BHD20 ($53) per night. A three-night stay in a five-star hotel in Cairo starts from BHD205 ($543) with extra nights priced at BHD 23 ($61) per night.||**||

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